On November 5, 2011, Dr. Robert L. Piccioni gave the lecture “Can Life Be Merely an Accident?” at Loma Linda University. While many able scientists and philosophers have formulated arguments for God’s existence based on the fine tuning of the universe and the complexity of life, Dr. Piccioni’s work has added an invaluable perspective to the discussion. Here are the main points of the section of his talk dealing with the probability involved in the simplest DNA sequence: The shortest known DNA sequence in a self-sustaining, self-reproducing organism is about 460,000 base pairs long. Getting this sequence by random chance would be equivalent to drawing the ace of spades 119,000 times in a row. The universe is very large, however, and according to Big Bang cosmology, it has been around for about 14 billion years. Is it conceivable that this remarkably improbable event could have happened at least once in all of that available space and time?
To answer this question, Dr. Piccioni used a technique inspired by his background in high-energy physics. He calculated the most favorable scenario imaginable because if the desired outcome is overcome by impossible odds in a perfect environment, it will be overcome by even greater odds in the real world. The four characteristics of this setup are: 1) Every carbon atom in the universe is part of a nucleotide base pair. 2) Every one of these base pairs is in an environment perfectly conducive to the development of life. 3) Each of these base pairs is assumed to interact and recombine with other base pairs 1 billion times per second. 4) All of this interaction started at the moment of the Big Bang.
Even in this wildly optimistic scenario, only 230 of the required 460,000 base pairs could be expected to join in the right sequence, and only once, in one location in the entire universe. This sequence is 2000 times too short. Is it possible that one out of 2000 isn’t too bad, though, and that we just got really lucky?
As it turns out, the math doesn’t work that way. If it takes the age of the universe to form 230 base pairs of the sequence, it will take three times as long to form just 231 base pairs and nine times as long (126 billion years) to form 232 base pairs. If I’ve extrapolated correctly, it would take 3^459770 x 14 billion years to come up with the necessary 460,000 base pairs. I plugged these numbers into my scientific calculator (calculator is a TI-82), and it gave me an error message.
In light of these numbers, Paul’s comment seems appropriate: “For, from the very creation of the world, His invisible perfections—namely His eternal power and divine nature—have been rendered intelligible and clearly visible by His works, so that these men are without excuse" (Weymouth New Testament, Romans 1:20).